“And I know what that means.” K.C. picked up her phone and started scrolling, clearly pissed.
She’s pissed at me? Screw that.
“K.C.!” My mood turned as black as my finger nails. “I said I would try. Jesus.”
“I’m just saying—” her eyes never leaving her phone— “that I think if it weren’t for Jared, then you would go. You have to try, Tate. He said he wouldn’t have any problem with you being there.”
My face flushed with embarrassment, I glanced at Ben. I never aired my dirty laundry for others to witness. “Oh, he wouldn’t have any problem with me being there? I guess since I have the dickhead’s permission, then I should fall on my knees with gratitude.”
“Well, Jared isn’t the race master, and doesn’t say who’s in or out. I can invite who I like,” Ben assured as he got up. “I need a Gatorade. Do either of you need anything?” he asked, probably looking for an escape while K.C. and I settled our little argument.
“I’ll take a water.’ I reached into my pocket to dig out some money.
“No, no. I got it.” He walked off inside the cafeteria. My gaze followed him as I appreciated how nice he looked in his jeans. Well, there was that at least.
K.C.’s voice broke my trance. “So if Jared’s a dickhead, then what am I for seeing him?” K.C.’s voice was calm, but I could tell by her point-blank stare and pursed lips that anger boiled underneath.
Jared was a dickhead. It wasn’t an assumption but a proven fact. My frustration with her spending time with that ass**le started to escape me. I was trying to grab my anger before it got out of control, but the damn thing kept slipping away.
“You tell me. He’s a prick. You know it, and I know it.” What the hell was I doing? “But what you don’t realize is that he using you. He’s using you to get under my skin. He cares about you as much as Liam did when he cheated.”
Shit! Too far.
I was done for. The look on her face punctured my chest. I’d hurt her, and I hoped she would huff and puff and eventually see reason. But the look in her eyes left me with only doubt.
After a few moments’ hesitation, she started packing up her things and grabbing her tray. “You know, Jared asked me to sit with him today, and right now I want his company a lot more than I do yours.” She spat out her words before leaving. And I let her leave, because I understood her disappointment. Right now, I didn’t even like myself.
As much as I tried to take part in a conversation when Ben returned, my mind was too focused on rewriting the argument with K.C. My dad always told me that I can say what I need to say as long as I say it nicely.
And f**k me for snarling out my words like a five year old.
I could’ve handled it so much better. You know what they say about best laid plans? My emotions got away from me, and she probably went to cry on Jared’s shoulder. I’ll bet he was lapping this up.
As I pushed through AP English and Government, I was already yawning with exhaustion and was in no way energized for practice or the dinner out that my grandmother had planned.
“Sit down everyone, please!” Mrs. Penley shouted over the clatter of moving desks and laughter. We had just finished our discussion on the assigned chapters in Catcher in the Rye and were moving our desks back to normal position. The class was energized about the story. Half of them, I think, were thankful that it wasn’t a farming story like they thought, and everyone liked the idea of the rebellious teenager who smoked too many cigarettes.
The discussion had sucked for me. We’d been forced to move our desks into a circle, so that we could make eye contact with anyone that spoke. Jared kept flashing me smirks, no doubt fully informed of his progress on Operation Kill Tate and K.C.
The silvery feeling coursing down my arms and legs made me want to scream until the force of my upset made him magically disappear.
I wouldn’t care if you were alive or dead.
I hated admitting to myself that I did care whether he was alive or dead. I’d been stung every day he didn’t want me near him.
But that baggage that you aren’t letting out is weakening you. Grandma was right. I was in no better position now than I was before I decided to fight back.
“Now, class,” Mrs. Penley instructed from the front of the classroom. “Before we copy down assignments for homework, I want to touch base about your monologues. Remember, these are due in two weeks. I’ll have a sign-up sheet outside the door, and you can pick your day. Your monologue can be from the list I gave you or you can choose another one with my approval. Now, I’m not looking for Oscar-worthy performances,” she reassured, “so don’t get scared. This isn’t theater after all. Just perform the monologue and turn in the essay using the rubric I gave you explaining how that monologue reinforces the theme of the book or film.” Mrs. Penley drifted off as people started to get out notebooks and copy down the assignment from the board.
Acting like you don’t care is not letting it go.
Isn’t it about time you fought back?
I want your heart to be free.
Weariness wadded my heart. I turned around to look at Jared. His eyes lifted from his notebook, and his eyes sharpened on me.
I wanted to walk down the hall and know there was no pain around the next corner. I wanted him to stop. And yes, I admitted, I wanted to know him again.
But that baggage that you aren’t letting out is weakening you.
Before I could stop myself, I turned back around and thrust my hand in the air. Tightness knotted my stomach as I felt like I’d stepped into someone else’s dream. “Mrs. Penley?”
“Yes, Tate?” Mrs. Penley was standing at her desk, writing something on a post-it.
“We have five minutes left of class. May I perform my monologue now?” I sensed eyes and ears shifting my way, the whole class focusing its attention on me.
“Um, well, I wasn’t expecting to grade anything yet? Do you have your essay ready?” Mrs. Penley stuck the pen in her hand into her tight bun.
“No, I’ll have that by the due date, but I would really love to perform it now. Please.”
I watched the wheels turn in her head as she probably worried if I was prepared, but I flashed my pleading eyes on her to hopefully make her see that I wanted to get this over with.
“Okay,” she exhaled, “if you’re sure you’re ready.” She motioned for me to come up front, while she moved aside to lean against the wall.
I rose from my chair and walked to the front of class, feeling the burn of looks on my back. Turning to face everyone, my heart pounded like a jackhammer in my chest. I swept my eyes across the room before beginning. If I didn’t meet his eyes, I could do this.
“I like storms,” I started. “Thunder, torrential rain, puddles, wet shoes. When the clouds roll in, I get filled with this giddy expectation.”
Just keep going, Tate. I tried to envision that I was speaking to my dad or grandma. Keep it natural.
“Everything is more beautiful in the rain. Don’t ask me why.” My shoulders shrugged. “But it’s like this whole other realm of opportunity. I used to feel like a superhero, riding my bike over the dangerously slick roads, or maybe an Olympic athlete enduring rough trials to make it to the finish line.”
My smile spread with the memories. Memories of Jared and me.
“On sunny days, as a girl, I could still wake up to that thrilled feeling. You made me giddy with expectation, just like a symphonic rainstorm. You were a tempest in the sun, the thunder in a boring, cloudless sky.”
“I remember I’d shovel in my breakfast as fast as I could, so I could go knock on your door. We’d play all day, only coming home for food and sleep. We played hide and seek, you’d push me on the swing, or we’d climb trees. Being your sidekick gave me a sense of home again.”
I exhaled, finally relaxing, and my eyes drifted over to meet his. I saw him watching me, breathing hard, almost as if he was frozen. Stay with me, Jared.
“You see,” my eyes stayed on him, “when I was ten, my mom died. She had cancer, and I lost her before I really knew her. My world felt so insecure, and I was scared. You were the person that turned things right again. With you, I became courageous and free. It was like the part of me that died with my mom came back when I met you, and I didn’t hurt anymore. Nothing hurt if I knew I had you.” Pools of tears filled my eyes as the class leaned in to listen to me.
“Then one day, out of the blue, I lost you, too. The hurt returned, and I felt sick when I saw you hating me. My rainstorm was gone, and you became cruel. There was no explanation. You were just gone. And my heart was ripped open. I missed you. I missed my mom.” My voice cracked, and I didn’t wipe away the tear that fell.
“What was worse than losing you was when you started to hurt me. Your words and actions made me hate coming to school. They made me uncomfortable in my own home.” I swallowed, and the knot in my chest lessened.
“Everything still hurts, but I know none of it is my fault. There are a lot of words that I could use to describe you, but the only one that includes sad, angry, miserable, and pitiful is “coward.” In a year, I’ll be gone, and you’ll be nothing but some washout whose height of existence was in high school.” My eyes were still on Jared, and my voice got strong again. The ache in my face from trying to hold back tears eased. “You were my tempest, my thunder cloud, my tree in the downpour. I loved all those things, and I loved you. But now? You’re a f**king drought. I thought that all the ass**les drove German cars, but it turns out that pricks in Mustangs can still leave scars.”
Looking around the class, I noticed everyone leaned in and quiet. One girl was tearing up. I finished wiping a tear from my cheeks and grinned. “And I’d like to thank the Academy…”
Everyone started laughing, coming out of their trance from my serious and sad story, and began clapping and cheering. My head fell back to look up at the ceiling before I took a dramatic and sarcastic bow making my classmates giggle more. The deafening applause distracted me from the wobbliness in my legs.
This was it. Jared could push me, hurt me, take what he wanted, but showing him that he had hurt, but not broken me, was how I won. Euphoria settled in my stomach as waves of contentment washed over me.
“What was that monologue from? Mrs. Penley, she made people cry! How is anyone going to live up to that? And we’re allowed to swear?” One of the girls from my compass jokingly complained.
“I’m sure you’ll do fine, and Tate, that was wonderful. You really set the bar. I don’t remember that one on the list, though, so I trust everything will be in your essay?”
I nodded as I headed back to my seat, figuring I’d deal with that part later. The bell rung and people started for the door, ready to be done with the day.
“Great job, Tate!”
People I’d never spoken to patted me on the back and offered compliments. Jared drifted out of class, like the fuse on a stick of dy***ite. Only this time, I was free from the explosion. I let him go, not even sparing any effort to make it look like I didn’t care.
I’d bared my soul up there, and now the ball was in his court.
“Tate.” Ben walked up to my desk as I grabbed my bag. “That was great. Are you sure you want to waste your time on medicine and not go into theater or something?” He took my bag off my shoulder and hung it over his own.
I headed for the door as he followed behind.
“Are you okay? You were crying.” He sounded genuinely concerned.
I turned to face him and plastered a no-effort grin on my face. “I’m great. And I would love to go to the race with you this weekend.”
He looked surprised by my change of subject, but his eye lit up as he grabbed my hand. “Okay! But…you know you have to wear a really short skirt, right? It’s kind of a uniform for the girls.” He teased, and I could tell he was being flirty.